In the early 1940s, when still only a teenager, Josef journeyed with his family across Central Europe to Germany in a bid to escape the turmoil in Romania brought about by the Second World War and the encroachment of the Russians. He was sent to fight as an infantryman on the Eastern Front with Russia, then served in Rommel's Afrika Korps in Tobruk, and in Italy fought in the fierce Battle of Monte Cassino. He was wounded on three occasions, and was awarded the Iron Cross for distinguished service.
Following the post-war division of Germany into four separate zones, Josef was separated from his father and siblings, who were trapped in the Russian zone.
In 1951, an advertisement in a German newspaper brought Josef to the newly established glass factory in Waterford, where he remained for nearly four decades. Uniquely gifted, he created crystal masterpieces that were presented to kings, queens, presidents and dignitaries of all kinds, including a special commission given to Jackie Kennedy for her children. Today, his glass is displayed in some of the most prestigious buildings in the world, including Westminster Abbey in London and the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.
Called the 'Master of Masters' by John Hearne in his book Waterford Crystal, Josef Cretzan was a remarkable talent who survived incredible hardship and personal tragedies to hone his craft. Josef Cretzan died in Waterford in 1990.